by Suzanne DeJohn

[caption id="attachment_2308" align="alignright" width="239" caption="These seedlings are are growing strong under fluorescent lights."]Seedlings[/caption]Every year I start seeds. Lots of them. In fact, I think it may be my favorite part of gardening. There's something wonderfully familiar and comforting about handling the seed-starting mix and sowing seeds, even as the snow flies outside. There are few things in life more magical than planting a rock-hard seed and watching it spring to life. Of course, there are practical of reasons to start your own seeds indoors, too. Here are a few:
  1. You can grow unusual varieties. There are thousands vegetable and flower varieties, yet relatively few of these are available for purchase as transplants. So if you have a particular variety in mind, like Black Cherry Tomatoes or Sweet Frying Peppers, you may have to start them from seed yourself.
  2. You can get a jump on spring. You don't have to wait until the weather warms up to plant heat-loving Basil -- start it indoors, transplant seedlings outdoors once the weather warms up and you'll begin harvesting it weeks before your outdoor-sown basil.
  3. You can save money. You'll get dozens of plants from a single pack of tomato seed -- a packet that costs less than the price of a single tomato transplant.
  4. You can control how the plants are grown. For example, you may choose not to spray pesticides on your seedlings.
Which Crops Should Be Started Indoors? [caption id="attachment_2308" align="alignright" width="125" caption="Use the Paper PotMaker to make biodegradable pots from old newspapers."]Paper PotMaker[/caption]New gardeners often ask why they can’t plant seeds right in the garden, instead of starting them indoors.
  • Many favorite garden crops, such as Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplant, originated in tropical environments and require a long, frost-free growing season. In many parts of the U.S., if you plant tomato seeds outdoors after the last spring frost you’ll be lucky to get a tomato or two before the first fall frost. If you want to grow these long-season, heat-loving crops, either start them from seed indoors or purchase transplants to set out after the last spring frost.
  • In regions with short springs where summer heat arrives early, it helps to start cool-season crops like Broccoli, Cabbage and Cauliflower indoors. Crops like these grow and produce best in cool weather, so starting them indoors and setting them out as transplants a few weeks before the last spring frost gives them time to mature before hot weather arrives. For an extra early harvest, start Lettuce indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date.
Some plants can be started indoors or sown directly in the garden. Cucumbers, Melons, Pumpkins and Squash are fast-growing plants that can be direct sown after the last spring frost, but you'll get an earlier harvest if you give plants a head start by sowing them indoors about a month before that. Crops to Sow Directly in the Garden Sow seeds for the following crops directly in the garden two or three weeks before your average last spring frost date: Beets, Carrots, Mustard, Peas, Radishes, Turnips Sow seeds for Beans and Corn directly in the garden after the last spring frost date. For more information on starting seeds, see: Starting a Vegetable Garden: Secrets to Success Creating a Planting Calendar for Your Vegetable Garden How to Start Vegetable Seeds Indoors Improving Garden Soil
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